Live Streaming in Singapore: Challenges and Opportunities

1. Introduction to Live Streaming

The last few years have seen the rising influence of video live streaming Singapore. The ease of use of platforms like Facebook Live, Twitter, and YouTube Live have enabled live content to be created with just a smartphone, connection to the internet, and an app. GoPro, DJI Osmo, and other action camera manufacturers have seen the trend and provide the capability to stream live from their products. The phenomenon was perhaps most popularized by Twitch, a website dedicated to video game live stream service. In Singapore, digital media outlets and ad agencies have begun to leverage the opportunities presented by this technology. However, due to the unfamiliarity of the technology, there are many challenges that they face. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this technology as well as the challenges and opportunities that media companies in Singapore face when using live streaming.

1.1. Definition and Importance

In Singapore, businesses have taken to using live streaming as a way to reach out to consumers and to get their messages across to a wider audience. Sectors include e-referral, events, sports, parties, conferences, church services, education, exhibitions, and tutorials. There are even businesses that exist solely to create technology solutions for live streaming events in Singapore, India, and more. Small business owners and individuals also successfully use live streaming to promote and share interesting stories with their followers. They also provide links that allow viewers to contact them after an event has been live-streamed. This makes it a perfect, current mode of storytelling and indigenous advertising as well.

Live streaming involves broadcasting content over the internet as it happens, in real time. Viewers either watch the event live or view it later, also in real time. This mode of reaching out to consumers has been adopted in several industries quite successfully as the cost of production and restrictions on length have made it an engaging and rapid way to reach consumers, share information, or entertain. The availability of good internet speeds and companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Meerkat – willing to provide live streaming capabilities – has boosted this form of live cast.

2. Current Landscape of Live Streaming in Singapore

While live streaming is continuing to gain in its popularity, there have been incidents, including but not limited to the streaming of live X-rated content, suicide incidents and unforeseen copyright issues that have raised concerns about the lax regulatory environment of live streaming, and incited public sentiments against it. Prior to the research, the government had already taken commercialistic concerns with live streaming such as taxation and business registration into account, and has clarified that there is flexibility in evaluating liability for regulatory aspects such as the need to require a licensee to be in physical control of programming when it comes to live streaming. The extent of how disembodied remotes are treated is contingent on whether other policies, such as industry transformation maps, have been brought in and also discussed with the industry. For remotes of significant influence that seemed to exhibit control over the situational dynamics of the physical program, the matter would be escalated to other governmental agencies and related policies to resolve.

In view of the new communication medium of live streaming, it is imperative for the government to continually adopt a multi-pronged stance in balancing the need to foster innovation and providing a regulatory environment that can cater to the numerous and ever-changing concerns. When assessing the current state of live streaming in Singapore, it was found that there were different genres of streaming and by extension, live streamers. It was determined that at least ten different genres of live streaming had taken root in Singapore, with an especially curious trend of incidental live streaming under the broader umbrella. Larger live streaming platforms have also attracted popular local live streamers and newer entrants. Additionally, some streamers are considered to be influencers, due to their extensive followers and the sway they hold over their followers.

2.1. Key Players and Platforms

StarHub commenced its live streaming services in early 2000 by acting as a digital television station rebroadcasting television channels and offering online video streaming of existing television content. Its offering was limited to streaming television content to subscribers with broadband connections. It used public domain protocol for its server infrastructure which at the time seemed ubiquitous for live broadcasting. In 2005, StarHub expanded its offerings and live broadcasts of certain news channels such as BBC, CNN, and CNBC became available. StarHub’s pay TV service was a viable option for live streaming since it was already in the business of content distribution. Its live broadcasting infrastructure was capable of supporting live video streaming or IP Multicast via the hyped StarHub ISB (Intelligent Set-Top Box) and online portal services before the advent of Over-The-Top television. As a pay-TV operator providing live streaming services, StarHub had both content and infrastructure.

The two key players were MediaCorp and StarHub, as they have access to both content and infrastructure. MediaCorp was well-placed to venture into live streaming initially owing to its control over the content. It started live streaming its television programs from 2000, digitizing content at its website to enable video on demand. With this early start and their terrestrial broadcasting dominance, MediaCorp had comprehensive content that could not be easily obtained elsewhere by rival platforms. This content was critical for building an audience for live streaming. In 2006, MediaCorp expanded the live broadcast time to 24/7 for the first time in its history, offering more news programs, current affairs, and Friday night sitcoms. In 2008, it started “Catch-up TV” services which allowed viewers of local drama and entertainment shows to view a missed episode online for a limited period of time after its broadcast on free-to-air television. For regular primetime shows, the online episode could be viewed from two to four days after the episode had been aired.

3. Challenges in Live Streaming

The challenge of selecting and mixing video feeds from live events happening at the same time becomes more difficult when the events take place in different geographic locations. In many cases, the mixing is done by an AI agent with no knowledge and understanding of what is the hottest news. The perceptual differences among users translate to significant differences among the live streams, potentially with different video qualities. These video qualities are often hard to discern from solely the metadata such as bitrates, resolution, response time, etc. For example, the motion complexity of a live video feed has a significant impact on the perceptual quality. Sometimes low bitrate streams look better than high bitrate streams because of their low motion complexity and simpler scene content. These complex qualities of experience, or QoE characteristics, make it hard to optimize the contribution rates and the composition of contributed live streams from the cellular network operator or media aggregator perspective.

3.2 Perceptual Challenges

As only a part of a mobile device is dedicated to media encoding, and there are often other resource contentions for that part of the mobile device, it is very difficult to make hard real-time guarantees without strict OS and driver cooperation. The real-time guarantee becomes even harder to achieve in a mobile device made by one of the supported original equipment manufacturers (OEM). Although most commercially available multimedia mobile SoCs have different OS and different multimedia drivers available at different release dates, many of these issues implicated in making real-time guarantees still hold. The fragmented mobile ecosystem means that internal components of a phone or tablet, sharing the same media encoding pipeline, can have significantly different timing characteristics, governed by the specific combination of app, OS, and driver installed and running at a particular moment. There is no easy solution to bridge this gap between different devices and their specific multimedia subsystem.

Live streaming involves many parties, and all parties require sophisticated equipment and stable high-speed connections. With 3G or Wi-Fi enabled broadband connections, everyone can be a reporter and contribute to the live video stream. However, the quality of the streams that are contributed depends on the quality of the live streams, the upload performance of the mobile broadband, and the media encoding capability of those contributing streams. As live streaming normally happens in real-time with no second chances, the encoding pipeline of the mobile device has to be able to handle high throughput streams with very strict latency and frame rate guarantees.

3.1 Technical Challenges

3.1. Technical Challenges

Since live internet connections may be used to host the video stream, and given the fact that Singapore’s Internet reliability is less than perfect, it is suggested that more than one internet connection is used for redundancy. This is expensive. And even if two or more internet lines are used, there is still the problem where even a brief outage will require the connection to be reset, interrupting the broadcast.

The ability to offer live streaming has a new set of organizers who will have to be trained on using unfamiliar equipment. This also suggests that an organization that offers a service such as live streaming has to invest in a team that provides customer support. As with many providers of digital services, the organization is, in effect, providing its product to every possible model of computer or mobile device. The flexibility of physical real-world artifacts is not available here and this leads to user frustration.

Small differences in the local machine setup may have large impacts on how well the streaming process functions. The client-side software requires functions that are not common in all video-processing libraries. Depending on the client, installation and setup of this software may take a long time. Every installation is different and some are highly customized.

Internet bandwidth requirements may be higher than what current ‘unlimited’ broadband packages can support. In extreme cases, real-time internet access may be feasible only over dedicated leased lines. To watch the video stream at full quality, high-speed broadband access is necessary. For less affluent viewers, the streams can optimally be offered in a range of bitrates so users can choose their preferred quality, but this requires multiple chunks of the videos to be produced.

First and foremost are the potential difficulties associated with capturing, encoding, and streaming video/audio in real-time. This is obviously complicated enough to necessitate specialized hardware to perform these tasks. An important requirement is that the video lag behind real-time action be kept as small as possible. This makes it extremely hard to pluck video from the air, perform processing, deliver it across a network, and then stream it in real-time to a remote client. Should the video latency be too high, the viewer may be seeing something which has already happened and has already been recorded and/or transmitted.

In this section, we discuss possible technical challenges involved when streaming live events. They include audio-video processing, bandwidth management, streaming reliability, user interaction, and video quality. As with most non-trivial implementations, unforeseen issues may arise. We document some of the ones we encountered while implementing the proposed system.

4. Opportunities for Growth

On the market demand side, the increased leveraging and niche catering due to economies of scope on the local front also make the reformatting of content for regional and international marketing that much more feasible as a future business prospect. With lots of countries vying to develop their own Infocomm competencies, progressively moving into the final development stages of e-gov development plans, hungry telecom operators who need to recover their network costs more quickly, and businesses providing (live) transfer services, as the penny does not seem to have dropped very hard in the area of supply-side economics, it will not be long for local supply to be developed to provide the relevant market services. Furthermore, the increased popular acceptance for streaming video ought to mitigate potential problems of crowd synchrony in demand anticipation and responsiveness levels, and even potentially work its way up to the final frontier in the development – live local sports broadcasts from not so local stadia.

Riding on the popularity of video streaming in Singapore, an area of great potential projected to rapidly grow is the development of local streaming platforms and content to cater to local needs and tastes. SingTel’s interest in developing its own streaming platform a few years back, based on its submarine cable network infrastructure, is indicative of the demand for such services. Success on the local front could potentially lead to the development of similar projects at the regional and inter-regional level. In order to fully take advantage of such an opportunity, proper market research, understanding of audience habits and coverage, and quality production practices are essential. With fewer platform-based regulations applying locally, it is easier for niche content to be developed catering to the needs of specific user groupings. Constraints involving the presence of local minority languages and requirements for educational and infocomm training create a pool of likely satisfied content users.

4.1. Emerging Trends

This study has mapped out the previous literature of live streaming and emphasized the evolving trends of live streaming in digital marketing. The landscaping of live streaming provides an overview for advertisers and retailers as well as for future academic studies. From this research, advertisers, retailers, and relevant stakeholders can improve their comprehension of how live streaming can be aligned to complement their existing advertising and commercial manners. The current study may give some suggestions for the stakeholders for further insight into future marketing strategies through live streaming by taking the example of the implementation in the e-commerce industry in Singapore.

Covid-19 has led to a turning point in people’s choice in the way they consume digital information, with a significant share of new consumers entering the digital world. This will facilitate the expansion of the use of live streaming in various business and social activities, thereby stimulating the growth of the internet and digital economy. The next decade will continue to accelerate the development of the digital internet. Businesses and organizations’ use of live streaming will fundamentally change the mode of operation and management, creativity, and information velocity, focusing on providing users with personalized and optimal streaming experiences. The commercial monetization model behind live streaming will also become more user-friendly and diversified.

5. Conclusion

First movers in adoption can shape new business ecosystems and create differential advantage for themselves. This can be relevant and advantageous to local start-ups or niche areas which are particular to the local context but which may not be initially addressed by the global leaders. These advantages can include learning through experimentation in local agile testbeds, co-creation and learning with trial communities, customer experience and social strategies unique to the local context, and selling to local needs where geographic factors play a differential role. While international players will obviously dominate based only on network effects, technological resources, tools and funding, first mover advantages like these can also be a fundamental factor in realizing their success. Therefore, given market conditions and dynamics that are now in a state of flux, industry scholars and practitioners should definitely explore live streaming ecosystems in a local market context and continue monitoring pertinent developments for the future.

While there are clear challenges for the live streaming industry in Singapore, particularly from local media-market perspectives, there are also clear opportunities. Given enablement by affordable and widely used mobile devices, we have seen similar phenomena with online digital crowd-sourced content, which actively engages and mobilizes local participants in other productive local initiatives. Live streaming has also become the latest avenue for cultivating connections with like-minded individuals.

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